Monday, September 22, 2008

Grow Your Community, Save Some Loot, Shrink Your Waist

We had a brief meeting tonight regarding the city council meeting slated for thursday and there were both good ideas and some bad ideas. Go figure. Though it seems like an insurmountable task, I would like everyone to remember that positive change is possible. It is often helpful to look at other similar cities for guidance and inspiration. And besides, we're still better than Mississippi. jk

Huntsville needs to start a solid foundation to build upon. Using Napoleon's three-pronged attack, what we are aiming for is organization, safe routes, and education. The police need to be educated first so they can all be on the same page - hopefully on the side of upholding the law. I think they need to treat cyclists like they would motorists. If you see somebody riding a bike on the wrong side of the road, riding at night without lights, running red lights, or endangering others - Give Them A Ticket! Cyclist need to act like responsible motorist before they can be treated like one. I welcome the police to weed out the bad apples. That being said, do the same towards motorists. You will pull someone over in a heart beat for not wearing a seatbelt but not for buzzing too close to a guy on a bike? You will raise hell for chaining a bike memorial to a light pole but not even a slap on the wrist for someone who hits and kills a cyclist because of a cell phone.

Huntsville, you need to get off your comfortable lazy ass and get a clue. The city wants to portray itself as a progressive, modern hi-tech city because it wants to attract more and more business. Our town of technology strives to attract more and more engineers and businessmen; you want to attract all these white-collar professionals and their families to make Huntsville their new home. These are modern worldly people; young professionals who realize the benefit of a healthy lifestyle. They go to gyms, they go to parks, they care about being healthy and green. Well, some of them do, but thats not the point! Huntsville is trying to attract the exact demographic that is currently going bike crazy! Maybe when they Google Huntsville and get "cyclist death trap" they will think twice before moving here. According to Bicycle Retailer magazine, "Core Customers of the US market are mostly male, older, wealthier, and more married than the rest of the US population." When they say older, they mean mid to late 30's and older. Wealthier means 83% of them make 50k and up. They are family focused, have kids, and 78% own homes - aka, places to store bikes and equipment. That sounds right out of the "Please oh please come move to Huntsville" brochure doesnt it? You may ask, "what about all the rural blue-collar folks in the adjacent towns?" I think it's a given that they will most likely inter-breed so much that their webbed feet and toes will soon fuse together making it imposible for them to drive, let alone make it all the way into "town".

Another trend is the rapid explosion of "urban" bike sales. By this i mean bikes for riding on greenways, for commuting (but wait, isnt Huntsville too dangerous to commute?), for fitness, and for saving a little $$$$ on gas. With over 50% of the working population commuting 5 miles or less to work, bicycles offer the strongest potential for reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips. Did I mention that cycling is a fun and healthy way to spend time with your family, to teach them healthy lifestyles, and to relax? Have you ever looked at towns like Portland or Louisville? They are known as very cycling friendly cities and that in itself makes the town seem more desirable to those looking to move. Why would I ever want to move to rainy old Portland? (ok, there are tons of reasons i really want to go there but for arguments sake...) Because it is the number one most cycling friendly town in North America. It is slowly becoming the center of the cycling industry and is a model for cities all over the world. Huntsville could be the next Portland if it wanted to be! We even have better weather, though my husky would disagree.

Enough about Huntsville and me rambling, here is a great article about problems with cycling elsewhere:

By Alex Johnson MSNBC
Over the last two months, Taylor Cabaniss’ morning commute has evolved into something entirely new. It has lengthened to an hour.

But that’s a good thing, said Cabaniss, a senior financial manager for Qualcomm Inc. in San Diego — it’s “just some good exercise opportunity, to get out a bit.”

Back in May, Cabaniss abandoned his car and began biking to work. With fuel prices topping $4 a gallon, it makes a big difference.

“I’m probably saving a gallon and a half a day — I imagine $6 a day,” he said.

Cabaniss’ story is a common one. Since the average price of gasoline hit about $3.25 a gallon early this year, bike sales have skyrocketed, the National Bicycle Dealers Association reported. Store owners across the country say two-wheelers are flying out the door faster than they can stock them.

“Gas prices have jacked our business quite a bit,” said Jamie McDonald, owner of Sunrise Cyclery in Minneapolis. “I’ve sold way more racks, way more bags, way more lights, way more fenders and more bikes in general than I ever have before.”

At Wheel Nuts in Alexandria, Va., a suburb of Washington, owner Ron Taylor sounds a common theme — he’s having trouble keeping up with both sales and repairs.

“With all of that business coming in, we’ve actually had to hire additional staff,” Taylor said. “We’re staying here late, trying to meet customers’ demands, trying to get their bikes back to them sooner.”

More bikes mean more accidents
Experts welcome the trend for all of the reasons you might expect: Transportation planners like that fewer cars clog the nation’s highways. Environmental activists like that fewer tons of greenhouse emissions are pumped into the atmosphere every rush hour. Doctors like to see more people pedaling off more pounds.

But in the months since motorists began pedaling in droves, it has become clear that all those cyclists on the streets pose a significant problem: all those cyclists on the streets.

“I believe it’s definitely going to cause some problems, because people don’t know how to share the road with cyclists,” said Kirk Hendricks, director of advocacy for the group Idaho Cycling Enthusiasts. “[Drivers] need to know that we have as much right as an automobile even though we’re not as big.”

Riders’ rules of the road
A bicycle is a small, inconspicuous vehicle. It isn’t easily seen on crowded streets and will seldom attract attention on its own. Follow these rules for a safe ride:

Bikes have the same rights and duties as any other vehicle:
• Ride on the right, in the same direction as other traffic.
• Stay in single file.
• Yield to all pedestrians.
• Stop at stop signs, red lights and signals before turning or changing lanes.

Use the same hand signals as motorists:
• Raise your left arm at the elbow to turn right.
• Hold your left arm out straight from your side to turn left.
• Hold your left arm down at the elbow to slow or stop.

When bicycles are allowed on sidewalks, they must yield to pedestrians and give an audible warning when passing pedestrians walking in the same direction.

Biking at night requires at least a white front headlight and a red rear reflector visible between 50 and 600 feet.

Always wear a helmet.
There are no nationwide statistics on bicycle-related injuries and deaths for the first half of 2008. But authorities across the country say they are seeing a sharp rise in the number of accidents involving bicyclists.

“Last year in New Jersey 12 bikers, bicyclists, were killed in motor vehicle crashes,” said Pam Fischer, director of the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety. “So far this year — and we’re at the middle of the summer, July 15 — we have already lost 11 bicyclists.”

Fischer said that “in almost every case, the bicycle was doing something that put them at significant risk.”

At least five bicyclists have been killed in Chicago alone this year, leading to lawsuits, organized protests demanding safer bike routes and a set of new ordinances requiring drivers to give cyclists at least a 3-foot-wide berth when passing.

“Most of the crashes that we’ve seen are a result of inattentive driving,” said Rob Sadowsky, executive director of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation.

Beware of newbies in the saddle
The problem is that so many new riders create road hazards because they don’t know the rules, police say. Too often, inexperienced riders take traffic signs as suggestions, not commands.

After the Seminole County, Fla., sheriff’s office recently began fielding scores of complaints from drivers that bicyclists were clogging major streets, it sent out deputies with video cameras. The cameras revealed large groups of bike riders illegally disrupting traffic.

“You need to obey the rules of the road,” said Officer Jeryl Vonderheid of the Eau Claire, Wis., police. “Bicycles are not exempt from [the] rule of stop signs.”

New riders also aren’t fully prepared for the inconveniences they can face — the worst one, experienced riders say, being drivers who also don’t know the rules or are too frustrated to observe them.

Bikers said they often struggled to blend safely with traffic. In the same video survey that found dangerous biking, Seminole County deputies also recorded a shocking level of rude and aggressive behavior by drivers.

“It’s not their right to assault a cyclist or to run a cyclist off the road because they get impatient,” sheriff’s Lt. Pete Kelting said.

Regardless, said cyclist Keri Caffrey, “they see a cyclist and they target them, in many cases.”

Transit riders feel the squeeze
Cycling advocates point to a host of other longstanding problems that they say are becoming critical now that so many new riders are hitting the streets: too many potholes and poorly maintained streets, too few bicycle lanes, too few places to securely park a bike, too few places to wash up after a long ride to work.

Add a new one: Too little space on the bus.

Transit officials in numerous cities report that more people taking their bikes along when the catch the bus or the train — in Houston, the number rose 33 percent in May alone, officials said. Those bikes take up passenger space, and that puts the squeeze on all paying customers.

“Given the explosive growth in bikes, we’ll never have enough capacity on transit to accommodate every bike, especially during rush hour,” said Mary Fetch, a spokeswoman for the TriMet light rail system in the Portland, Ore., region, where 1 in 10 transit riders totes along a bicycle.

Deborah Ulinger of Beaverton often cycles to a TriMet station and hops the train with her bike. But late last month, security guards began kicking cyclists off bike-crowded trains at the perpetually packed 185th station and wouldn’t let any board unless there were empty bike racks.

“It’s frustrating, because we have places to go and things to do,” Ulinger said. “I know it’s a safety issue, but if they could provide more spaces for bikes it would be great.”

The Utah Transit Authority said it would probably have to rip out seats in its FrontRunner commuter trains between Ogden and Salt Lake City to make room for more bicycles. Each car now has straps to hold two bicycles, but James House of Layton, a regular commuter, said he had seen as many as 15 in each car, blocking the aisles.

Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell, meanwhile, recently ordered that a pending order for 380 cars for the Metro-North light rail linking her state and New York be modified to allow more bicycle storage before the state will take delivery.

‘A way of life for a lot of people’
Authorities and cycling advocates acknowledged that finding the money for the upgrades needed to accommodate all the new bike riders would be tough. But they said the move toward cycling was unlikely to reverse, and the sooner the fixes were made, the better.

“I believe in the future that cycling is going to not be just a trend, but a way of life for a lot of people,” said Gene Wells, owner of Fat Tire Cycle in Buckhannon, W.Va., an assessment that was echoed by Rebecca Anderson, advocacy director for Trek Bicycle Corp.

"Millions of people have bicycles hanging in the garage and they're getting them down and riding them,” Anderson said. “People are looking at the bicycle as more than just a toy.”

1 comment:

clintpatty said...

They already ticket for no lights. And I've heard of people getting pulled over for running stop signs. I also think the cops should buy some light sets (from Bicycles Etc?) and offer a light set in place of a ticket, both for $30 or whatever price they need to charge for the light set. And cyclists should not get the same tickets at motorists.

I stopped at a red light this morning then went on red. That's a special case of the law not accommodating me since my bike won't trigger the signal there, but there was no traffic around in any of the 4 directions other than me. If I had just plain ran the red light and not stopped, that is still a lot less dangerous than a car buzzing a cyclist. A cyclist running into a car or running a light and getting hit because of that is less dangerous to motorists than motorists are to cyclists and each other.

Where was the meeting? Jamie told me about a group that was meeting at the library at 7 and discussing bike issues, but I was already on my way to wash clothes. Did it go well? Do you think we'll be ready for something this Thursday?

I'm not sure the police are done with that motorist. She may get more than a slap on a wrist. And it seems to me that we are making a bigger deal out of the bike being chained to a poll than the city was. They just removed it without making a big deal. Last week I sent Rex Reynolds, director of public safety, an email. I have not yet heard back from him, but I hope I do, especially if I need to clarify something I said. I want him to realize that a lot of people are paying attention to this, and it is a good opportunity for the city to make something good come out of this bad situation. It's also an opportunity for the city to set a bad precedent if they choose. Here is an excerpt from the letter:

"So if no charges are filed, then the city is stating that such driving is expected? Are cyclists, responsible motorists, and pedestrians to expect that degree of inattentiveness and carelessness with a deadly weapon? I understand that users of roads accept a degree of danger when they use those roads. So is any degree of inattentiveness that leads to an accidental death acceptable? Why is this the case when attention impaired by a substance would surely result in a felony charge; texting while driving or reaching for an item or similar choices are choices just like choosing to drive after using an impairing substance. Will there be any efforts to take back our highways from stuff like this the way the state police are doing with the speed limit?"